VAIL, Colorado - Some Latin American visitors to Vail come for the skiing, some for the shopping, others for the socializing. Regardless of why they come, they're here in large numbers and they're a backbone to the valley's March economy.
This week is a holy week known as Semana Santa, a time when many Latin Americans - many of whom are from Mexico - have time off and like to spend it together with their family and friends. It just so happens that so many Mexicans who want to spend time together choose Vail as their destination.
"We really like to come to Vail because it's such a beautiful place. We've been coming here, and most of our family and friends like to come here together for this important week for us," said David Rassam, of Mexico City. "We've been coming to Vail for many years and we really love it."
Like so many families, Rassam and his relatives have been traveling to Vail for decades. He thinks his relatives began coming here 30 to 35 years ago, and often during Semana Santa. This week, he said there are about 20 cousins in his family in Vail.
"It's a religious week. We have holidays, so most of our businesses are closed and kids have vacation from schools, and we take the time to come to Vail," Rassam said.
A tradition began when visitors who came to Vail in the 1960s later founded travel agencies in Mexico. Vail Resorts estimates those agencies have sent thousands of Mexican guests to Vail over the past 40 years. The effort is also strong on this side of the border, as marketing teams at the ski company's resorts focus on attracting business from Mexican markets.
The timing of Easter this year has worked out in Vail's favor, too. When Easter fell later in the season in 2011, many Mexican families canceled their trips because they worried the snow wouldn't be good. That's how Ale Bidales, of Playa del Carmen, explained why many of her friends canceled their Vail trips.
But this season, with Easter falling on March 31 instead of more than two weeks later like it did in 2011, business is booming.
At the Sebastian hotel in Vail Village, General Manager Lance Thompson said the hotel is 100 percent full this week for Semana Santa. He estimates the split of Americans to Mexicans/Latin Americans is about 60-40 this week.
"It's a very traditional time for folks from Mexico to get together with family and friends," Thompson said. "Over the last couple decades, Vail has become a destination. ... You certainly hear a lot of Spanish as you walk around this week."
Thompson is grateful for the earlier Easter because snow conditions are more reliable this time of year. It has meant that many Latin American guests didn't balk at coming this week.
"This year has been outstanding because Easter fell during March," Thompson said. "It fell during a time when we had a great weather pattern."
As Thompson looks around the hotel and notices so many young children on vacation with their families, he has no doubt the tradition of coming to Vail for Semana Santa will continue.
"We're in this business to create memories and I think when we get people together that are multi-generational, we're definitely creating memories. As we look as these younger kids, I think they're going to be coming back to Vail."
For families like Rassam's, there's no doubt that's true. He said there are children with their family this week as young as 6 years old all the way up to 23 years old. For many families, the children are the reason these families are still coming here, Rassam said.
"Our kids bring us to Vail," he said. "They ski all day long. They love it. ... On Friday we have a fast, and Saturday and Sunday we go to church because of the religious celebration. We're traveling back (to Mexico) on Sunday - we're going to Acapulco after Vail, to spend a week on the ocean after this cold weather."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.